Stronger Together

“We’re stronger when we all work together.”

I wrote that statement as part of a work project, and then a week or two later, it appeared again in some sample marketing copy. A few weeks later, I heard it again from a stranger at a trailhead – he was about to embark on a hike with his older dog, and he told me that they’d both been battling some injuries lately.

“But the two us put together” he said, giving her good scratch under the collar, “we’re strong enough to make it to the top.”

(I think her name was Gracie.)

I’m just pretty hopelessly in love with this idea lately, and I think the Universe knows, because it keeps sending the message and I keep receiving it with open, eager arms. I’m writing this with my legs stretched out onto the seat opposite me so that I can try to get a little hamstring stretch in at the same time.

I. AM. SORE.

A couple of days ago I invited a couple of close friends to join me at Orange Theory, a workout class I’ve been obsessed with recently. A week earlier I brought a couple of other friends. My motives are good, and also a bit selfish – I really like introducing people to things I think they might like, and I absolutely love to do workouts with my friends. I like connecting through exercise. (I sort of want to call it “sweat bonding,” but that sounds really gross. I still kind of want to call it that anyway.)

And a funny thing I noticed is that, during the workouts I completed with my friends, I felt much stronger throughout the session and I worked a lot harder, too – and because Orange Theory is so high-tech, I actually have quantitative proof of that. The data I got back showed that I burned more calories and I spent more time working at a higher heart rate when I was with my friends, as opposed to when I was working out solo. The difference in my results was quite significant. I also had way more fun, but I don’t think there’s a way to quantify that yet.

I know that part of the reason for this is because we all just kind of want to look good in front of our friends – that there is some odd need to impress them, even when we know that they don’t really care, and we don’t need to try to impress them. There’s also that bit of inherent competition that runs through us, although that is stronger in some than in others. I have a little.

But I keep sensing that there’s something way more than that at play – some sort of gestalt, the-whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts force going on that actually generates strength, somehow, when we work together. I’ve felt it in the late stages of my first marathon, when a small group of total strangers and I formed a little running pack and made a silent vow to cross the finish line together – and to finish strong – although each of us had been struggling greatly on our own. I’ve felt it on multi-day, long-distance bike rides, and during brutal boxing workouts that I quite literally would not have been able to complete on my own.

(Sweat bonding. It’s a thing.)

Look, I don’t know – I mean, can a group of people working together actually create additional force or energy in the Universe somehow? Can it make our muscles stronger and our bodies more resilient, and allow us to endure physical challenges we’d be unable to conquer on our own? Is that scientific?

Probably not. But also, probably yes. I am going to make some space in my brain for that paradox to live and I am going to ask you to do that too. My best advice for anyone who’s struggling with finding motivation to exercise, or feeling burned out during their own workouts? Ask someone else to join you. And then ask someone else. Tap into that mysterious power and strength we generate when we work together.

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